“The Most Famous Teenager in the World”: Malala Yousafzai
First, there was Malala Yousafzai, the children’s education activist from Pakistan. At age 16, , she was horribly injured in an assassination attempt by the Taliban who sought to silence her voice that proclaimed every GIRL should be educated. Her long recovery was exceeded only by her courage and determination to recover and go on with her work. Since then, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, which she shared with Indian Activist Kailash Satyarthi . She has founded the Malala Fund which seeks to address social and physical conditions that keep 130 million girls worldwide from going to school.
Malala repeatedly upholds the power of a single individual–yes, a girl!–to make changes that impact the world. Follow her story at the Malala Fund, or visit her many videos on YouTube.com.
Emma Gonzalez and the March For Our Lives: “I Call B.S.!”
On Feb. 14, 2018, Emma went to her high school, Marjorie Stoneham Douglas (MSD), in South Florida with the rest of her friends. That day, seventeen of Emma’s friends, teachers and staff never got to come home to their families, due to one of the most horrendous school shooting the United States had ever seen.
Despite the trauma she and her good friends experienced during and after the shooting, the kids of MSD made clear in public that they found the traditional “thoughts and prayers” sent out to victims’ families as a way to avoid concrete action simply unacceptable. “We call B.S.!!” Emma cried, standing outside the Broward Country Courthouse as she enumerated all the reasons given to not act. After each, she named it B.S. (Bull sh*t), and the crowd responded in kind. Her ringing refrain was just the start.
With good friend Cameron Kasky and David Hogg, and a group of other talented kids, Emma and her cohorts put together a national march, the March for Our Lives, on March 24, 2018 in Washington, DC, and 880 other locations. One of the biggest demonstations ever held in the US, over 1 to 1.2 million people were estimated to have participated. During the speech, Emma broke the rules of broadcast media in her memorial for her lost friends: she remained silent for 6 minutes and 20 seconds, the amount of time it took for the shooter at MSD to murder the victims. That long moment stretched out, confusing the crowd, the media, and other participants on stage, until they realized that Emma was moving them into the terrifying space of the actual account. Finally, a timer went off; Emma wiped her tears, and ended her remarks.
It was a moment the country could not forget, thanks to Emma’s raw presentation before a crowd stretching to many milliions of tv viewers. Following that, things formerly thought impossible began to happen–like legislation, debate, and the unmasking of the power of the National Rifle Association, a gun maker’s lobby.
The kids of MSD are determined we shall not forget, and that “Thoughts and Prayers” are never again our only response to gun violence.
Greta Thunberg: “The House is On Fire!”
Greta Thunberg, now 16, is quiet Swedish teenager, who only speaks up when she thinks there is something important to say (she describes herself as diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism). She takes her beliefs seriously: worried about rising CO2 levels, she changed her diet and her family’s to vegan, and argued for reducing their carbon footprint by boycotting air flight. She remembers that people have been talking about climate change every since she was little, so she wondered why no one seemed to be doing much about it. Inspired by the kids from MSD (see above), she decided she could do something, so she did.
She describes herself as an “invisible girl”, but once she spoke her piece, she is invisible no more.
After a series of heat waves and wildfires in Sweden in August, 2018, Greta decided it was time to speak up and DO SOMETHING: she went on a school strike, refusiing to attend until general elections a month later when Sweden might take action on climate change. She sat outside the government headquarters everyday, demanding a reduction of CO2 to the levels mandated by the Paris Climate Accords. (She continued her strike even after the elections, but limited it to Fridays. A girl needs an education, after all.) By December, over 20,000 students had taken part in Greta’s school strike for climate in some 220 cities and towns.
Greta’s straightforward challenge to adults has brought her as a speaker to many events on Climate Change. She addressed the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24), and in 2019 stunned the world with her temerity, poise, and passion at the Davos World Economic Forum, demanding that adults take the actions children can not. You can watch her speech on YouTube and elsewhere.
Girls Taking Charge: Who Will Be Next?
Just these three small profiles should be convincing enough: is there anything a girl CAN’T do? Not if you ask Malala, Emma, or Greta! Just girls, going to school, and thinking about what is going on around them, have impacted our globe in ways that we probably never would have imagined if we didn’t have their stories in front of us. But we cannot deny their importance as thought leaders who change minds and hearts and actions.